BUFFALO, N.Y. – As Jason Pominville skated out to center ice in the fourth round of Saturday’s shootout, the former Buffalo Sabres captain got a kick out of the jeers he received from many of the 19,000-plus fans who used to root him on.
“At first, I was laughing at the boos. Then I kind of got focused,” the Wild winger said.
Pominville pays attention to what righthanded shooters do in shootouts, so after seeing teammate Charlie Coyle tie the shootout at one goal apiece two rounds earlier, Pominville thought there would be room low stick-side if he changed the angle on Sabres goalie Robin Lehner. The veteran was right, and he buried the winner for a 3-2 Wild victory and fourth consecutive Minnesota win.
“I had a good feeling about Pommer,” said goalie Devan Dubnyk, who made 30 saves, including a game-saving one on an Evander Kane breakaway in overtime. “He’s got such a tricky shot with his head up. I have such a tough time with him in practice.”
Pominville, who played through a strained leg muscle sustained in the first period, was excited.
“It will always be special coming back to Buffalo,” he said. “I came here as a kid, I left here as a dad.”
The Wild took a two-point lead over the Avalanche in the race for the Western Conference’s second wild-card berth after Colorado lost 5-2 to Nashville. The Wild has a game in hand.
The Wild improved to 8-3 under interim coach John Torchetti, and this was the first game that went past regulation under him. The Wild was 1-10 in such situations under former coach Mike Yeo, 1-8 in the 3-on-3 portion.
The Wild’s only previous victory past regulation came Nov. 12 at Carolina, so Torchetti said winning was another example of the Wild bucking trends.
• The Wild scored 22 goals in Yeo’s final 12 games. It has 39 goals in Torchetti’s 11 games.
• Until rallying to beat Colorado on Tuesday, the Wild had won a league-worst three of 27 games this season when giving up the first goal. The Wild then accomplished the same feat Thursday in Toronto.
• Saturday was the fourth consecutive time the Wild got two points out of a game when the score was tied in the third period. That’s been an issue all season, including two road games before this stretch.
• Saturday was the first time since the season opener at Colorado on Oct. 8 that the Wild won when trailing after two periods. The Wild was 1-18-5 until Mikko Koivu’s power-play goal with 5 minutes, 41 seconds left in the third.
After Coyle drew his team’s only power play, the Wild extended its franchise-record road power-play goal streak to 12 games when Matt Dumba made an outstanding play, then pass to set up Koivu’s one-timer.
The Wild’s power play has connected at least once in 16 of the past 20 games and has climbed to 13th in the NHL (19.3 percent).
“The power play’s big because games will be tight down the stretch,” Koivu said. “It’s a good thing the power play has been hot because it has been bailing the penalty kill out.’’
In Toronto, the Wild didn’t take a penalty for the seventh time in history. Many players joked after that it was the best the penalty kill performed in weeks.
Saturday, we were reminded of why the self-deprecating humor. The Wild took one penalty — a double-minor high-stick on Nino Niederreiter — early in a poorly-played second period and former Wild second-round draft pick Johan Larsson and star-in-the-making Jack Eichel scored on both ends of the four minutes.
That turned a 1-0 lead on David Jones’ first goal with the Wild into a 2-1 deficit.
The porous penalty kill is one trend that has yet to buck. The Wild, which a year ago had the NHL’s stingiest penalty kill, ranks 28th this season. It has been scored on eight times on 13 chances over the past seven games and 16 times on 46 chances over the past 15 games.
“We’ve got to be better at it,” Koivu said.